Icelandic Sheepdog – a Viking’s dog!

Narrated from: Dog Breeds

Iceland is a rather small (and cold) country, and there is only one dog breed native to the island – but it is one hell of a dog!

What are these dogs? 

Icelandic Sheepdogs are – well, sheepdogs. This sturdy working breed has endured an unfriendly climate and tough terrain for centuries, and these dogs have proven their merits time and time again.


All dogs are beautiful – you just need to find the right one for you! 

Icelandic Sheepdogs are medium-sized canines, rather fox-like in their appearance. They belong to the Spitz group (Nordic herding Spitz to be exact), and boast of well-proportioned, sturdy bodies, covered with weather-proof coats.

Two types of coats are observed in Icelandic Sheepdogs – long and short – and both types are extremely thick and weatherproof. Breed standards accept the following colors: tan, reddish-brown, chocolate, grey, and black, with white as a required prominent color.

Icelandic Sheepdogs somehow seem to radiate cheerfulness and alertness at the same time – they have the typical northern curled, bushy tail, and erect ears. Their faces are curious, smiling and mischievous.


If one thinks dogs are dumb animals, then one has never tried to negotiate with a dog.

Icelandic Sheepdogs are friendly; they grow very attached to the family that takes them in, and have the habit of following their owners everywhere.

As a working breed, they are also very intelligent – in Iceland they are used for herding dogs and watchdogs, but aren’t suitable for hunting. For centuries the Icelandic Sheepdog has handled not only the tough climate of Iceland, but also rather complex tasks – a good sheepdog is supposed to be able to round up sheep, and to search for any animals lost in the mountains. This means that Icelandic Sheepdogs can often operate independently, and retrieve a sheep on their own.

Even though they make good watchdogs, Icelandic Sheepdogs are very social, and get along with children just fine. They walk the line between good working dogs and good pets, and are one of the few working breeds that can settle down indoors without getting overexcited or over energetic – and wrecking the place!

The main problem with these dogs is that they are barkers – this is invaluable in the field, but can be a nuisance at home!


Your dog you train well, young Padawan, or otherwise the dog it will be who does the training.

Icelandic Sheepdogs are very friendly, which makes them easy to train – but certain individuals can be rather willful. Generally, the more intelligent a dog is, the more trouble it can cause, so be careful with the brightest amongst them and assert your authority!

Always use positive training techniques, since Icelandic Sheepdogs do not respond well to negative treatment, and can grow stressed or even neurotic for life! And a stressed Icelandic Sheepdog barks – a lot.

Barking training is essential, and it is best if you start while the dog is young, otherwise it might be impossible to stop this annoying sound. An Icelandic Sheepdog trained when to bark can be the perfect dog for both work and play.


If you take good care of your Icelandic Sheepdog, it will bring you joy for 12, and even up to 15 years. These dogs are extremely robust and healthy, but a common health issue has proven to be hip dysplasia, while other problems owners should keep watch about include distichiasis and cataracts.


Hair… there was hair everywhere…

The beautiful coat of the Icelandic Sheepdog unfortunately requires extensive grooming. You will need to establish a routine, and to follow it on a regular basis. It’s for your own good, since these dogs shed a lot, especially if you fail to groom them.


One needs to know where one is coming from in order to know where one is going… or where one should find the bouncy ball!

The Icelandic Sheepdog is a Nordic breed, and was probably brought to Iceland by Vikings in the 9th century. The Icelandic Sheepdog is related to breeds from neighboring studies, and a genetic study suggests that their origin can probably be traced to Finland, with the Karelian Bear Dog pin-pointed as a direct ancestor. The Karelian Bear Dog is a sturdy breed, belonging to the so-called Laika group. It is believed that their ancestors were brought from the east to Finland, and from there to Norway – and eventually, to Iceland. Rather a trip, eh?

Nation of the dog

For are dogs not a nation of their own? Are they fewer than humans? Is there a place where humans live without dogs?

Little is known about the Icelandic Sheepdog’s history, since there are few records on dogs in Iceland. The breed was held in very high regard in the country, and explorers even noted that the locals were ready to part with their children, because they were unable to feed them – but demanded great prices for their dogs. During the 16th and17th centuries, Icelandic Sheepdogs became fashionable across the sea, among aristocrats in Great Britain.

However, the great Icelandic breed was brought close to extinction in the late 19th century, as plague and canine distemper wiped out almost the entire population. Later on, the growing popularity of foreign breeds would put the Icelandic Sheepdog’s survival in question, but in recent years the popularity of the breed has been growing thanks to breeding organizations in Iceland, and these glorious dogs were preserved for the following generations!

And they are the perfect match for…

A dog! A dog! My apartment for a dog!

Icelandic Sheepdogs are proven working dogs and excellent pets. They are very good sheepdogs, and have often shown exceptional results in different canine competitions – agility, tracking, etc.

With the right training, they also make excellent watch dogs, and their jovial, lively character means they are often used as therapy or assistance dogs.

If you are looking for a pet, then the Icelandic Sheepdog is a perfectly suitable candidate. The main drawbacks are the shedding and a barking problem that may appear due to poor training. In all other aspects, Icelandic Sheepdogs make excellent family companions – they are obedient, sociable, and only need moderate exercise.

Professional CV

Soldiers, firefighters, guards, hunters… and you think all they are good for is lazing on the couch?

The main skills of the Icelandic Sheepdog come in herding. These dogs have been honed for this business, since in former times people relied on their herds to survive, and they needed the perfect sheepdogs to assist them.

Icelandic Sheepdogs usually work behind the herd, and use their voices to drive the sheep. They are very intelligent, and are often allowed to work independently – even as far as retrieving lost sheep. Their agility, speed, and problem-solving abilities, which makes them good sport dogs, also allows them to work on various terrains – pastures, brush and trees.

An Icelandic Sheepdog will also protect its charges from any predators – or burglars, for that matter!

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